I keep thinking about copyright. There’s this large blob of uncertainty which my brain is having difficulty navigating through. On a simple first pass I think ‘all copying of copyright material is bad’. Then I think. ‘Why?’ – the answer: ‘because it’s theft’ then, I think ‘is it really theft?’ … and from here I go through a conversation not unlike this:

me: well, it’s not really theft – in the sense that you’re not stealing an actual thing. You’re not nicking a loaf of bread – you’re making an exact copy of a loaf of bread which you’re then using – thus depriving the baker of the opportunity to make you a loaf and sell you a loaf.

myself: so, you’re not actually nicking a ‘thing’ are you? you’re copying something. In some sense, couldn’t teaching be a form of copyright theft? Before you could copyright ideas if I thought of a great way to cook pie then someone watching could learn it and then teach it to someone else, which would – nowdays- be copyright theft?

me: uhm… yes. But er.. that’s why you need a law to stop that from happening, it gives you, the original baker, a monopoly on using that idea. (And, a chance to earn back some cash from your great idea)

myself: Oh, ok, so really copyright theft is in essence opening up a government sponsored monopoly?

me: uhm… yeah. that sounds right. kinda. I think.

myself: so how long a monopoly am I allowed? 5 years, 10 years, 15 years?

me: dunno about the uk, but in the states something along 95 years.

myself: cool. That means anything I create for [insert name of publisher here] is mine for 95 years and I can earn money on it for that entire period? (granted, won’t be much use to me in about 60 years, so those remaining 40years will sort out my grandkids)

me: no. Because you (like all other work for hire people) signed your copyright away.

myself: uhm… ok. But… hang on… I thought that the copyright laws were enforced specifically to make sure creators would benifit?

me: Uhm… yes…. er… but there also there to make sure that a company keeps pouring money into new innovations.

myself: maybe I’m being thick. But, let’s pretend that copyright law lasts 10 years, that means that after that 10 years a company has to think of a new unique idea to keep earning money… right..?

me: sounds right ish.

myself: so … if the law is extending to 20 years?

me: well, you probably would keep earning money over those 20 years….

myself: so if you keep earning money on the same material for close to one hundred years, where exactly is the incentive to produce new material?

me: I dunno.

myself: so, as an individual, if copyright lasts for a short period I am incentivised to produce new material as often as possible to ensure my earnings whereas if copyright lasts for a long period then, bugger it, I only have to do one job and that’s it?

myself and me: this confuses the both of us.

Apologies if this is dull and/or wrong headed – it just strikes me as time wears on that the idea that ‘copyright theft’ (a made up law) is tantamount to actual theft (granted also a made up law, but a bloody old one) becomes more and more ingrained when … you know… it’s the government that decided that you could monopolise an idea (which I don’t have a problem with) and that idea could be monopolised for close to a century (which I do have a problem with).

Personally, I think copyright, intellectual property and creative rights laws all need a major reworking.

Author: PJ

Belfast based Comic Artist who won’t shut up on twitter.